The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter XXIV.

He achieves an Adventure at the Assembly, and quarrels with his Governor.

At the assembly, were no fewer than three gentlemen of fortune, who rivalled our lover in his passion for Emilia, and who had severally begged the honour of dancing with her upon this occasion. She had excused herself to each, on pretence of a slight indisposition that she foresaw would detain her from the ball, and desired they would provide themselves with other partners. Obliged to admit her excuse, they accordingly followed her advice; and after they had engaged themselves beyond the power of retracting, had the mortification of seeing her there unclaimed. They in their turn made up to her, and expressed their surprise and concern at finding her in the assembly unprovided, after she had declined their invitation; but she told them that her cold had forsaken her since she had the pleasure of seeing them, and that she would rely upon accident for a partner. Just as she pronounced these words to the last of the three, Peregrine advanced as an utter stranger, bowed with great respect, told her he understood she was unengaged, and would think himself highly honoured in being accepted as her partner for the night; and he had the good fortune to succeed in his application.

As they were by far the handsomest and best-accomplished couple in the room, they could not fail of attracting the notice and admiration of the spectators, which inflamed the jealousy of his three competitors, who immediately entered into a conspiracy against this gaudy stranger, whom, as their rival, they resolved to affront in public. Pursuant to the plan which they projected for this purpose, the first country-dance was no sooner concluded, than one of them, with his partner, took place of Peregrine and his mistress, contrary to the regulation of the ball. Our lover, imputing his behaviour to inadvertency, informed the gentleman of his mistake, and civilly desired he would rectify his error. The other told him, in an imperious tone, that he wanted none of his advice, and bade him mind his own affairs. Peregrine answered, with some warmth, and insisted upon his right: a dispute commenced, high words, ensued, in the course of which, our impetuous youth hearing himself reviled with the appellation of scoundrel, pulled off his antagonist’s periwig, and flung it in his face. The ladies immediately shrieked, the gentlemen interposed, Emilia was seized with a fit of trembling, and conducted to her seat by her youthful admirer, who begged pardon for having discomposed her, and vindicated what he had done, by representing the necessity he was under to resent the provocation he had received.

Though she could not help owning the justice of his plea, she not the less concerned at the dangerous situation in which he had involved himself, and, in the utmost consternation and anxiety, insisted upon going directly home: he could not resist her importunities; and her cousin being determined to accompany her, he escorted to their lodgings, where he wished them good night, after having, in order to quiet their apprehensions, protested, that if his opponent was satisfied, he should never take any step towards the prosecution of the quarrel. Meanwhile the assembly-room became a of scene of tumult and uproar: the person who conceived himself injured, seeing Peregrine retire, struggled with his companions, in order to pursue and take satisfaction of our hero, whom he loaded with terms of abuse, and challenged to single combat. The director of the ball held a consultation with all the subscribers who were present; and it was determined, by a majority of votes, that the two gentlemen who had occasioned the disturbance should be desired to withdraw. This resolution being signified to one of the parties then present, he made some difficulty of complying, but was persuaded to submit by his two confederates, who accompanied him to the street-door, where he was met by Peregrine on his return to the assembly.

This choleric gentleman, who was a country squire, no sooner saw his rival, than he began to brandish his cudgel in a menacing posture, when our adventurous youth, stepping back with one foot, laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword, which he drew half way out of the scabbard. This attitude, and the sight of the blade which glistened by moonlight in his face, checked, in some sort, the ardour of his assailant, who desired he would lay aside his toaster, and take a bout with him at equal arms. Peregrine, who was an expert cudgel-player, accepted the invitation: then, exchanging weapons with Pipes, who stood behind him, put himself in a posture of defence, and received the attack of his adversary, who struck at random, without either skill or economy. Pickle could have beaten the cudgel out of his hand at the first blow; but as in that case he would have been obliged in honour to give immediate quarter, he resolved to discipline his antagonist without endeavouring to disable him, until he should be heartily satisfied with the vengeance he had taken. With this view be returned the salute, and raised such a clatter about the squire’s pate, that one who had heard without seeing the application, would have taken the sound for that of a salt-box, in the hand of a dexterous merry-andrew, belonging to one of the booths at Bartholomew-fair. Neither was this salutation confined to his head: his shoulders, arms, thighs, ankles, and ribs, were visited with amazing rapidity, while Tom Pipes sounded the charge through his fist. Peregrine, tired with his exercise, which had almost bereft his enemy of sensation, at last struck the decisive blow, in consequence of which the squire’s weapon flew out of his grasp, and he allowed our hero to be the better man. Satisfied with this acknowledgment, the victor walked upstairs with such elevation of spirits and insolence of mien, that nobody chose to intimate the resolution, which had been taken in his absence; there, having amused himself for some time in beholding the country-dances, he retreated to his lodging, where he indulged himself all night in the contemplation of his own success.

Next day in the forenoon he went to visit his partner; and the gentleman, at whose house she lived, having been informed of his family and condition, received him with great courtesy, as the acquaintance of his cousin Gauntlet, and invited him to dinner that same day. Emilia was remarkably well pleased, when she understood the issue of his adventure, which began to make some noise in town even though it deprived her of a wealthy admirer. The squire, having consulted an attorney about the nature of the dispute, in hopes of being able to prosecute Peregrine for an assault, found little encouragement to go to law: he therefore resolved to pocket the insult and injury he had undergone, and to discontinue his addresses to her who was the cause of both.

Our lover being told by his mistress that she proposed to stay a fortnight longer in Windsor, he determined to enjoy her company all that time, and then to give her a convoy to the house of her mother, whom he longed to see. In consequence of this plan, he every day contrived some fresh party of pleasure for the ladies, to whom he had by this time free access; and entangled himself so much in the snares of love, that he seemed quite enchanted by Emilia’s charms, which were now indeed almost irresistible. While he thus heedlessly roved in the flowery paths of pleasure, his governor at Oxford. alarmed at the unusual duration of his absence, went to the young gentlemen who had accompanied him in his excursion, and very earnestly entreated them to tell him, what they knew concerning his pupil: they accordingly gave him an account of the reencounter that happened between Peregrine and Miss Emily Gauntlet in the castle, and mentioned circumstances sufficient to convince him that his charge was very dangerously engaged.

Far from having an authority over Peregrine, Mr. Jolter durst not even disoblige him: therefore, instead of writing to the commodore, he took horse immediately, and that same night reached Windsor, where he found his stray sheep very much surprised at his unexpected arrival. The governor desiring to have some serious conversation with him, they shut themselves up in an apartment, when Jolter, with great solemnity, communicated the cause of his journey, which was no other than his concern for his pupil’s welfare; and very gravely undertook to prove, by mathematical demonstration, that this intrigue, if further pursued, would tend to the young gentleman’s ruin and disgrace. This singular proposition raised the curiosity of Peregrine, who promised to yield all manner of attention, and desired him to begin without further preamble.

The governor, encouraged by this appearance of candour, expressed his satisfaction in finding him so open to conviction, and told him he would proceed upon geometrical principles; then, hemming thrice, observed that no mathematical inquiries could be carried on, except upon certain data, or concessions of truth that were self-evident; and therefore he must have his assent to a few axioms, which he was sure Mr. Pickle would see no reason to dispute. “In the first place, then,” said he, “you will grant, I hope, that youth and discretion are with respect to each other as two parallel lines, which, though infinitely produced, remain still equidistant, and will never coincide: then you must allow that passion acts upon the human mind in a ratio compounded of the acuteness of sense, and constitutional heat; and, thirdly, you will not deny that the angle of remorse is equal to that of precipitation. These postulata being admitted,” added he, taking pen, ink, and paper, and drawing a parallelogram, “let youth be represented by the right line, a b, and discretion by another right line, c d, parallel to the former. Complete the parallelogram, a b c d, and let the point of intersection, b, represent perdition. Let passion, represented under the letter c, have a motion in the direction c a. At the same time, let another motion be communicated to it, in the direction c d, it will proceed in the diagonal c b, and describe it in the same time that it would have described the side c a, by the first motion, or the side, c d, by the second. To understand the demonstration of this corollary, we must premise this obvious principle, that when a body is acted upon by a motion of power parallel to a right line given in position, this power, or motion, has no effect to cause the body to approach towards that line, or recede from it, but to move in a line parallel to a right line only; as appears from the second law of motion: therefore c a being parallel to d b —”

His pupil having listened to him thus far, could contain himself no longer, but interrupted the investigation with a loud laugh, and told him that his postulata put him in mind of a certain learned and ingenious gentleman, who undertook to disprove the existence of natural evil, and asked no other datum on which to found his demonstration, but an acknowledgment that “everything that is, is right.” “You may therefore,” said he, in a peremptory tone, “spare yourself the trouble of torturing your invention; for, after all, I am pretty certain that I shall want capacity to comprehend the discussion of your lemma, and consequently be obliged to all the pangs of an ingenuous mind that I refuse my assent to your deduction.”

Mr. Jolter was disconcerted at this declaration, and so much offended at Peregrine’s disrespect, that he could not help expressing his displeasure, by telling him flatly, that he was too violent and headstrong to be reclaimed by reason and gentle means; that he (the tutor) must be obliged, in the discharge of his duty and conscience, to inform the commodore of his pupil’s imprudence; that if the laws of this realm were effectual, they would take cognizance of the gipsy who had led him astray; and observed, by way of contrast, that if such a preposterous intrigue had happened in France, she would have been clapped up in a convent two years ago. Our lover’s eyes kindled with indignation, when he heard his mistress treated with such irreverence: he could scarce refrain from inflicting manual chastisement on the blasphemer, whom he reproached in his wrath as an arrogant pedant, without either delicacy or sense, and cautioned him against rising any such impertinent freedoms with his affairs for the future on pain of incurring more severe effects of his resentment.

Mr. Jolter, who entertained very high notions of that veneration to which he thought himself entitled by his character and qualifications, had not borne, without repining, his want of influence and authority over his pupil, against whom he cherished a particular grudge ever since the adventure of the painted eye; and therefore, on this occasion, his politic forbearance had been overcome by the accumulated motives of his disgust. Indeed, he would have resigned his charge with disdain, had not he been encouraged to persevere, by the hopes of a good living which Trunnion had in his gift, or known how to dispose of himself for the present to better advantage.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30